Monday, June 21, 2010

Lessons From Dad

With yesterday being Father's Day, I couldn't help but think of all of the small moments thus far with my dad that have served as great life lessons. Here are just a few of those off the top of my head:

-Being woke up first thing on Saturday mornings after Friday night football games to cut or hang tobacco. Those mornings with sprained ankles were especially rough. Walking around on those barn rails with a messed up ankle was definitely tough early in the morning but by the end of the day, most of the pain had worked itself out. Having sprained my ankles at least a dozen times in high school, the "work it out in the barn" method definitely helped me get back to practice much quicker than the "walk around on crutches for a week" method. I also learned the value of working hard -- even though I hated waking up early on those mornings.

-At the end of one of my first "dates" (whatever you call being in 8th grade and chaperoned around by your dad), I found it appropriate to allow my date to walk from our car to her house by herself. As soon as she left the car and the door shut, my dad said "Aren't you going to walk her to the door?" (Not really a question but more of a statement) To be honest, the thought hadn't even crossed my mind, but I knew right away that he was right. I proceeded to open my door and catch up to my date to finish the walk to the front door. This still resonates in my head today in how I try to treat Ashley. "Aren't you going to open that door?" "Aren't you going to cook dinner tonight?" "Aren't you going to..."

-During one of my Babe Ruth League baseball practices, I learned a bit about being respectful. It was my time for batting practice and my dad was at the fence to the side providing pointers. This wasn't uncommon for my dad. He was pretty much a staple at all of my sporting events and I was always able to pick his voice out of the crowd. I'm not sure how he did it, but he was always to broadcast his voice over the hundreds in attendance at the football game, the PA system, and my coaches. Anyway, I wasn't particularly intersted in being criticized on that day. I turned and said "Do you think you can do any better?" Right away from the look, I knew I had slipped. He said something to the effect of "give me the bat and I'll show you." I didn't give him the bat but went back to swinging -- one, because I just wanted to pretend like I hadn't said that; and two, because I really didn't want him to take the bat, step in the box, and hit the ball (which he could have).

These three are just the tip of the iceberg on these types of moments. One of my biggest hopes around this Father's Day is that I'm able to have similar moments to teach Caleb lessons that will be important to him in his life and that I'm able to continue to learn from my dad's wisdom. I might also have to talk dad into raising tobacco again in 10 years to give Caleb something to do on Saturday mornings.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Job Interviewing

Over the past several years I've been involved in several job interviews: both on the side of potential employee and as employer. I thought I would share some of my experiences and recommendations for those who might be in a similar position. *A quick note -- these items are related primarily to for-profit businesses. Government/not-for-profit jobs can have an entirely different purpose than the for-profit companies; although most of the recommendations will still apply. Also, there are other detailed websites regarding specific formatting issues on resumes, specific answers to interview questions, what to wear, etc. This is more about some observations and attitudes while interviewing.

1) You must understand that the employee-employer relationship is like any other business transaction and should market the business of YOU to the employer. You are 'selling' your time each week to the employer and being compensated accordingly. Businesses don't hire for purposes of boosting their employment numbers. They do so because you will either a) make money for them; b) save money for them; or c) indirectly make or save money for them by freeing up the time of other skilled resources. Understand that you are choosing the employer as a customer of YOU as much as they are choosing you as a Vendor.

2) As hard as it may seem, you can't come across as desperate for the job. I know this is easier said than done if you've been searching for months and unemployment is running out, but it really shifts focus on WHY you are applying for the job. You want the job because it provides an income for your family; however, employers want to hear that you're interested because you are interested in the challenges, have a desire to learn something new, or want to accomplish tasks. I've been blessed to be in a position where I don't necessarily have to work for extended periods (thanks Dave Ramsey). I once told a potential/future employer in an interview that I didn't need his job financially. I told him that I was looking for something that could increase my skill sets and present me with challenges. He offered me the position a day later.

3) Remember that you don't have to be a 100% perfect candidate for every job. You just have to be better than the others interviewing and show a willingness and ability to learn where you may be deficient. One quick tip at the end of an interview is to ask the interviewer if they have any concerns with your ability to perform the job functions. This may kind of stun them but it allows them to be open with you about their concerns. If you're able to get an answer, it will allow you to address the concern while you have the opportunity. For example, "Ryan, I'm concerned that you don't have experience with Oracle databases." "Thanks for that feedback -- although I don't have direct experience with Oracle, I have extensive experience with Microsoft SQL Server, which is a very similar product. I'm willing to put in the time necessary to learn the differences and feel that I can learn it very quickly."

For Resumes:

1) Tailor each resume for the specific position in which you are applying. Re-word your past work experiences to mimic similar tasks that you'll be performing in the new job. Don't lie about the experience -- simply highlight tasks that might be more interesting to the new employer. Keep all of this in third person (no I's)

2) Write a Letter of Application/Cover Letter for each position. Try to tie in something you've heard about the company and how you would be a great fit. For example, "I heard about Apax at the Mobile Conference in Lexington and am very impressed about the quality of mobile applications you've developed. I feel that I have the skill sets necessary to succeed in the Mobile Developer position because ...." The Letter of Application is all in first person so feel free to use I's.

I hope this has been helpful to a few folks. I don't know everything about this topic but have had some reasonable success while interviewing and being interviewed, so I thought I would share.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2009: Shortest Year of My Life

2009 was definitely the shortest year of my life. Seems like I turned around and it was already Thanksgiving.

First, and the most impactful, was the arrival of Caleb Orion on July 13th. If the year wasn't already going fast enough, it hit hyperdrive around this time. The days blended together and life became a three-hour repeating cycle. Caleb is absolutely perfect and I wouldn't change a thing about him. It's amazing to watch him grow daily and I look forward to what he has in store for us. Like I was telling Ashley, I can't imagine what I would do with my time here in Muncie without him. With Ashley's work obligations, I would be bored out of my mind without Caleb to keep me company and to watch football with on the weekends.

My beautiful wife graduated from Med School and chose Muncie, IN as the place to perform her residency in Family Medicine. We packed up and moved everything to our new home in September. This also marked our first official home purchase. In Lexington, we were blessed to live rent free since Ashley's parents owned the house. We spent two days and looked at 20 houses, but found one in Muncie that fits us perfectly.

Apax, my software company, continued in 2009. Due to a downturn in business, we had the unfortunate duty of laying off a number of our employees. (I'll write a full blog post about things I've learned during that process at another time) I'm happy to say that every employee that left our company has already found another job. They were all great employees and I was able to give my full recommendation for all of them. Also, since Caleb's arrival and the move to Muncie, I have decided to reduce my role at Apax. I don't feel like I'm contributing as much and am really looking to reduce work responsbilities (since the home responsibilities have increased so much).

I took a position as a developer for a software company in Fishers, IN. So far, so good with them. The first week was fairly shaky, since I got exactly what I wanted -- a fairly consistent 8 hour day with a lot less responsbilities. I'm still adjusting to this since I don't believe it's in my nature not to take full ownership of things I'm working on. The great thing is that I'm working with some of the smartest people that I've ever worked with before. These guys definitely know what they're doing and have years of experience designing manufacturing systems.

I competed in a partner triathlon with my brother (Little Miami Triathlon). This is the only triathlon around where you canoe rather than swim. This was my 2nd time in the race (Ashley and I competed a few years ago) and was Adam's first. With a better hydration plan, better bike, and better pre-race nutrition, I was able to knock 1/2 hour off of my time from two years ago.

I participated in Muncie's Academy for Community Leadership put on by the Chamber of Commerce. I was looking for a way to get introduced to some people in Muncie as well as to learn about some of its history. The class provided just that. Most of the participants were a little older, but I did meet a lawyer who just moved to Muncie from Minnesota. He's glad to have Tubby and I'm glad that he has Tubby. I also learned a lot about the city of Muncie and other avenues to get involved.

So, in recap: new child, new job for me, new job for Ashley, new city to live in, and new house were a few of the things that made 2009 the shortest year of my life -- thus far.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Good: Fatherhood

I have to admit that I've learned a ton about being a father over the past five weeks. Caleb has a crazy ability to train me on the things that I need to know. He's not only taught me the little things like changing diapers and burping but also has given me lessons in patience and selflessness.

I was scared of becoming a father. Would I be a good example? How would I react during his first fit in the store? As soon as I saw and held him, though, it all seemed to fade away. I still question how good of a dad that I'll be, but it seems to fade to the background. As soon as I saw and held him, I felt a sense of immediate and complete selflessness. I'm not sure what it was, but I immediately pushed aside any need of mine and had Caleb and Ashley's in mind. I realized while waiting in that hospital that God has entrusted both a beautiful wife and healthy child for me to care for. It didn't matter that I may not have felt up to the challenge by myself, because I knew that it was God's plan for me to care for them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Good: High School Competition

This past week, I was witness to two different displays of high school competition: 1) Lego Mindstorm Robotics competition; and 2) track and field state finals. Regardless of my aggravation with Kentucky public school curriculum, these two events were a tremendous display of problem-solving, creativity, hard work, and passion.

The Mindstorm Robotics competition was held in Rupp Arena and part of the Student Technology Leadership Program. The event consisted of elementary, middle, and high schoolers programming a Lego Robot to perform certain tasks. I was solicited as a judge for this competition and had a great time. The interesting part is that every robot looked and functioned differently -- a product of the creativity of the teams. Certain tasks (such as grab a small figure placed on the board or move a trophy to another area of the board) were performed differently by each of the teams. The teams all had the same robots and software, so the difference came directly from the imagination and problem-solving skills of the students.

The Class A State track competition was held at the University of Louisville. My sister has been throwing shot and discus for the past few years and qualified for both in the state this year. Going in, she was ranked 1st because of her throws in the Regional competition. She's worked very hard this year and I was anxious and proud to watch her in the state. Because of her ranking, she threw last and all of the girls had 6 total throws. Her first throw 106'9" set the mark and very few girls were even breaking 100'.

Like last year, she went into the finals with the farthest throw. Last year she got 2nd place and was beat on the very last throw of the meet. She felt the pressure going into the finals this year as well and just kept saying that she hoped the same thing didn't happen again. Sure enough, second to last throw by a girl was 106'10" -- one inch farther and enough to seal the deal. My sister had one final throw that was probably far enough but was out of bounds. She knew it when she released it and the emotions started pouring out. I'm proud of her competitive spirit and passion for working hard on something she loves. She didn't win this year, but hopefully it will provide motiviation to work even harder next year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Bad: Us (Christians)

Hear me out on this one. I don't mean to bash Christians but to challenge us to become the solution of many of America's problems.

We often find ourselves on the conservative side of the aisle politically. If we're not careful, we'll continue to be stereotyped as hypocritical and self-serving when we should truly be the light to those around us.

I've found myself complaining about the recent stimulus package speeding its way through Congress. I still don't agree with it because it provides too much power to the federal government. However, we have to look at ourselves when it comes to the need to spend money to assist those around us. It is absolutely ridiculous that we're called in the Bible to tithe from our first fruits and the average U.S. Christian gives 2-3%. Imagine the good that another 7-8% could do in our country and world. Imagine how much money we wouldn't have to pay in federal taxes if individuals' needs were being met by Christian outreach programs. Imagine how much God could multiply that amount.

I encourage us to take a look at ourselves when we question the need for all of that spending and look at what we can do to help.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

?: 2008

I'm not really sure how to classify my 2008. It's probably been the best and worst year of my life at the same time. I've tried to let God lead me in everything that I do but I know I always get in the way. I just hope that I've learned something through the trials and mistakes.

The year started with signs of tremendous growth in my business. I hired two individuals at the beginning of the year to double the size of my company to four. We moved out of my house into leased office space and I finally felt as though the company was "real".

By April, I had hired four more individuals and found out that Ashley was pregnant. We had been planning accordingly to have the child around the first of the year. This would allow us to move to her residency with a 6 month old rather than younger. We had a tough lesson in God's timing vs. our own when we found out in early June that Ashley lost the baby. That was a pretty rough patch for us, especially for Ashley. I truly didn't realize the emotional connection that had already formed between mother and child and felt helpless in trying to comfort her.

Around that time, I also had to conduct my first firing of an employee. I knew early on this he wasn't going to work out and I held out months too long because of my fear of performing the action. I truly thought that it was my purpose to lead the employee to be something great and that it his failures were a result of my lack of leadership. I learned a great deal from that experience including the fact that character means more in my employees than any technical skill they may possess. I have also been extremely blessed in all other company hires and would put the Apax team against any other development team in Kentucky.

I struggled over the next three or four months on whether I wanted to continue on the path as business owner. I was working extremely long hours and pouring everything that I had into something that didn't seem like it was improving. I was also enlightened during a mission trip in June to Jamaica about the need around the world and my role in meeting some of those needs. I held on to the business for the simple fact that I had younger individuals with families working for me and I couldn't let them down. I carried that responsibility solely on my shoulders for the next several months and it had a big impact on how I wanted my business to run moving forward.

At the end of the 3rd quarter, I made probably the biggest decision in my company thus far. I merged with one of my vendors to create one company of 20+ employees. We had worked together on several projects already and had shared office space so a merge was the next step in the progression. As of this date, it was probably one of the best decisions that I have made. I was able to officially surround myself with other talented owners and was able to ease the responsibility I was feeling months earlier. I have seen myself step away from daily programming tasks and move to actually leading the company. It's pretty easy to do with the awesome employees that we have and I have been extremely impressed with the amount of growth that I've seen during this year.

The 2nd half of the year was up and down on a personal level as well. In a span of 3 or 4 months, one grandmother died unexpectedly, an aunt who had been fighting pancreatic cancer died, and my other grandmother who had been in and out of the hospital for months died. Those, on top of the baby we had lost earlier, made the year pretty rough. I don't understand why all of these things happened during this one year. Maybe it's something I'll learn one day or maybe I'll never find out why.

Ashley and I also found out towards the end of last year that we're pregnant again. The timing could be better for us, but we learned from our earlier experiences that our timing preferences are insignificant compare to a greater plan. We also began interviewing for residency programs at the end of last year. We know that we'll be leaving Lexington, KY sometime late summer and are anxious for what's in store for us.

So, 2008 had its ups and downs both professionally and personally. I've learned a lot about myself and only hope that I'm able to apply some of the wisdom gained on future challenges.